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Is Marina Abramović Trying to Create a Performance Art Utopia?

by Jillian Steinhauer on May 7, 2012

Rendering of Marina Abramovic Institute facade

Rendering of the facade of the Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art (all renderings courtesy OMA)

Nearly 150 people gathered in MoMA PS1’s performance dome this morning to hear Marina Abramović present plans for her new museum dedicated to performance art in Hudson, New York. As the crowd took their places on and around the oversize red ottomans filling the space, people gazed at and stuck their heads inside the glowing architectural model set up in front (it features a hole in the center, for peering inside). Within a few minutes, MoMA and PS1 curator Klaus Biesenbach introduced the woman who must be the only celebrity performance artist in the world. “If it wasn’t for Marina,” he said, “I expected 10 guests or so.” (Although free pastries and coffee always help.)

Marina Abramović speaking

Marina Abramović speaking at MoMA PS1 (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted) (click to enlarge)

Abramović took the podium, opening with a loud sigh and then launching into a rapid discussion of her legacy, her institute and her vision.

“To me, when you die, you can’t leave anything physical — it doesn’t make any sense; but an idea can last for a long time,” she said. The embodiment of the idea, she explained, is the Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art, which will function as a museum, archive, school and theater, and also as her legacy — all of which sound quite physical.

The institute will cover all different types of performing arts, including theater, dance, performance, music and video art, and not surprisingly, it will focus on Abramović’s MO: long-duration artworks, projects that could last anywhere from six hours to 365 days. “In the 40 years of my career, I’ve learn that only long-durational works of art have the potential change the viewer and the performer,” Abramović said. “Our life is more and more busy, so our art should be longer.”

But the institute isn’t just for performance artists; Abramović wants to teach the public how to see and appreciate durational work. Visitors will be schooled in the Abramović Method, which blurs the line between audience and artist by turning spectators into performers themselves. Upon arriving at the institute, visitors will don white lab coats, check their belongings, sign a contract — “Give me your word of honor that you’ll spend two and a half hours in the exhibit,” is how Abramović explained the current version, at an exhibition at PAC in Milan — and then move through the different experiences and rooms, receiving a certificate of completion at the end.

Close-up of the architectural model for the institute

Close-up of the architectural model for the institute (click to enlarge)

Some of the most fun-sounding and eyebrow-raising highlights include “chairs for human and spirit use,” aka chairs whose legs rest on slabs of quartz, so that your feet don’t touch the ground; a digital temple featuring the parts of a song engraved in marble, so that “you’re entering inside the sculpture and inside the song itself,” according to Abramović; and another type of chair designed for long periods of sitting by the project’s architects, OMA partners Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu. At MoMA PS1 Shigematsu called it “part massage chair and part wheelchair,” explaining if you fall asleep in it, institute staffers will quietly wheel you out of the performance space and into a small sleeping station.

Shigematsu discussed the design for the institute, which will be housed in an old community theater-turned-tennis-court in Hudson. The architects used three guiding principles in their planning, the first of which is the idea that everyone and every space should stay connected. So a circuit of rooms devoted to the Abramović Method will ring the main performance space, and wherever a visitor is in the institute, even eating a sandwich in the cafe, she will have a view of that central space. It’s hard not to find this constant ability to watch and be watched a bit creepy, rather than a utopia it even has the makings of some kind of performance-art police state (a feeling bolstered by the cool surrealism of some of the architectural renderings for the project); but it will theoretically help further erase the distinctions between performer, audience member and audience-member-in-training.

Rendering of the Abramović Method at work

Rendering of the Abramović Method at work

“The idea of the institute is really a huge laboratory,” Abramović said. (Or the set of a Buñuel film.)

Former art dealer Serge Le Borgne, who will direct the institute, was also on hand at MoMA PS1, giving a short speech that lamented the state of today’s money-obsessed art world and recounted his conversion to Abramović’s cause. “It took me only one night to understand that Marina’s project was much more interesting to me than running a gallery,” he said. Milan City Councilor Stefano Boeri also spoke, telling the story of how he fainted just before completing his participation in The Abramović Method at PAC.

Woman with head in architectural model

A woman looking inside the architectural model for the institute

The cost of the project is estimated at roughly $15 million, which Abramović implied she’ll be mostly raising on her own. And yet, despite the large price tag, one sort of doubts she’ll have much trouble. She is, after all Marina Abramović. Her name carries weight and cache. Hence why that name is included in the institute’s title, although at first glance it may seem a bit vain. “I feel like I have become a brand,” she said, “like Coca-Cola or jeans. When you say Marina Abramović, you know it’s about performance art — hardcore performance art.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sgeras Stephan Geras

    Hrag, thanks for the articles about Armenians. 
    About Abramovic…panopticon?

    • http://twitter.com/jilnotjill Jillian Steinhauer

      Performance art panopticon! That is brilliant.

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